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Educational Institutions Need to Preserve Video Assets Better

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Have you ever lost a video? Maybe it was on a tape or memory card that was lost or corrupted. Perhaps it was on a hard drive that crashed. Or you know it’s on a server or external drive somewhere, but you just can’t figure out where.

These are the perils of any video producer. Because of that, most commercial production houses have developed workflows and practices to mitigate the risk of losing valuable footage. It makes sense, since video content is their bread and butter.

But what about your school or training organization? Too much instructional content is regarded as ephemeral, or just not regarded much at all. A recorded guest lecture is forgotten once the term is over. A student’s video project is lost in the pile on a professor’s desk after grades are in.

Most of the time, nobody notices. That is, until an instructor wants to use that guest lecture again, or when administration asks to see some examples of student-produced videos. Then it’s a mad scramble to find those assets.

Video files are called assets for a reason. They have value. And if they were valuable enough to create and use—even for a short period—then they are valuable enough to organize and keep. That’s why educational producers should develop a preservation plan.

The move toward online video platforms (OVPs) helps campuses address these issues. By providing a single point of ingest and distribution, combined with rich metadata and tagging, schools are cataloging and finding their video assets more easily. If you have access to an OVP, using it to store and index as much of your video as possible is one of the best moves you can make.

It’s also critical to consider the proper storage of all this data. Organizations that use cloud-based OVPs are effectively outsourcing it. In this case, your SLA is your guarantee; if you’ve picked a good vendor, then you’re probably in good shape.

Organizations that host their own servers are on the hook to steward their own assets. I can’t tell you how many departments and schools I’ve encountered that aren’t using any redundant storage for their self-hosted platforms. Or if they do use some kind of backup for the video data, they don’t back up the server or database. If that server goes down and they lose that database, it’s even worse than having a library without the Dewey Decimal system and no catalog.

While using and maintaining a reliable OVP is one of the most important things you can do, those platforms aren’t necessarily ideal for source content that isn’t intended for distribution, because these platforms are primarily focused on hosting deliverable assets. This category might include raw footage or video that is restricted by research policy, contract, or law.

Most vitally, it also includes project files from your editing platform, whether it’s iMovie or Avid. You want to keep these even after your final project is completed, because you never know when you will need to re-edit or find some footage that didn’t make the final cut.

The various methods for backing up these assets are too numerous to list here, but the fundamental principle is simple: Make and maintain as many copies as possible, and keep a database (even just a spreadsheet) of where everything is. Computers die, hard drives crash, DVDs and Blu-rays get corrupted. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and don’t keep all your data on one disk.

The Library of Congress maintains an excellent site dedicated to digital preservation that includes tips and best practices for organizations of all sizes.

This article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "The Video Preservation Conundrum."

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